Many of us use Siri and other smartphone ‘digital assistants’ to get information on news, sports, and weather, as well as to make calls, send messages, and set reminders. We also book restaurant tables, flights and cabs, order pizza, and much more, by sending short text messages from our mobile apps.
Could there be a scenario where we would be talking to similar ‘smart’ machines for inquiring about a drug’s side effects, setting reminders for taking medication, or scheduling hospital appointments? Yes, and very soon.
Welcome to the world of ‘bots’. Artificial intelligence (AI), the computing technology based on machine learning and natural language processing that drives Siri and its like, is all set to make a splash in health care. In fact, some have already started experimenting with these so-called chatbots, or automated agents embedded in mobile messaging apps.
The bot promise
Enhanced patient engagement remains the Holy Grail for providers and payers in the post-Obamacare world, as the U.S. health care industry transitions to an outcome-oriented business model.
The much-touted standalone mHealth apps have failed to deliver, while wearables remain a niche, as far as measuring and tracking consumers’ health parameters go. And, the reason is simple: no one likes to open an app everyday, and be reminded of how bad his cholesterol and blood pressure levels are.
AI-based chatbots could offer a compelling alternative. Based on a new user interface paradigm, these intelligent and ‘empathetic’ (yes, you heard that right!) software programs can facilitate deeper user interaction. Conversational bots can engage with patients via text through short message service (SMS), websites and other touch points to provision various care-related services.
What’s more, by automating–on a mass scale–routine business processes, bots could enable a more natural interaction between humans and IT setups, spanning hospital registration billing and laboratory systems to EHRs (Electronic Health Records).
Provider and payer organizations could also harness bots to ensure on-demand, multi-device access to relevant data for their various enterprise users. More importantly, these machines promise to make the ever-expanding volume of digitized patient information actionable. So, doctors will no longer have to fret over the time they spend hooked to their computers uploading electronic data, instead of treating patients. And, nurses and other hospital staff would be able to trace the on-call cardiologist or retrieve lab results quicker. In short, bots, if implemented the right way, could help you significantly boost your employees’ productivity.
- Appointment scheduling: Deploy bots to simplify the task of fixing patients’ appointments with their caregivers. For instance, these ‘invisible apps’ can interpret specific instructions within patients’ text messages, such as: “Kindly arrange a visit to Dr. Austin in a fortnight’s time, on a Friday morning after 10a.m.” This will mean faster, automated appointment scheduling, also resulting in reduced manpower costs.
- Billing and payment processing: Requiring patients to be on hold to speak with a full-time staffer on that 24/7 billing hotline is simply not cool anymore. You can improve patient experience immensely by harnessing bots to process payments over text messaging, and instantly respond to their queries regarding services billed and outstanding balances.
- Patient portals: Automate mundane activities such as compiling insurance data, processing invoices, sending reminders to take medication, and renewing prescriptions, through a simple chat window. Provide targeted, customized educational content for patients with specific ailments, and inform them about the various side effects and drug interactions for any newly prescribed medication.
- Remote patient monitoring: Optimize your outpatient programs by using bots to engage with discharged clients, for follow-ups on treatment plans and adherence. Patients can chat with these embedded apps about symptoms and self-care, apart from accessing personalized medical resources at home–without having to schedule a clinic appointment. Continually self-learning bots can swiftly figure out the subsequent relevant questions for an individual patient and accordingly, present the most suitable information for him. Finally, you can leverage interoperable AI apps to make sure all the aggregated remote patient data is securely transmitted to clinicians.
Healthcare bots are about making your workflows smarter and more efficient, as well as fostering enhanced user engagement so that you can deliver better value–affordable and accountable care–to your patients. It’s also important to bear in mind that the technology is only reinforcing the professional judgment of doctors, clinicians, and other caregivers by provisioning real-time data capture and analysis–and not supplanting them.
We are still in the early innings of a multiyear development and adoption cycle for bots. As the machines get more mature, and patients’ comfort and trust levels with the former increase, we should see improved medical outcomes and an enhanced patient experience.
Mohamed Madar Mohideen M Z
Assistant Vice President, COE